Idea Incubator 11: Perfectionism—Agony or Ecstacy?


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glass collection of Liane Sebastian
Perfectionism. A danger for any committed professional. You want to not only perform well, but do it the best. My grandfather said: “I don’t care if you’re a garbage-man. Be the BEST garbage man you can be!” The problem comes in when being a perfectionist blows budgets or deadlines. The web is a fantastic black hole to gobble up time by tweaking pages, content, images. It is endless.

So if you have perfectionist tendencies like I do, you know that it is also a danger to creativity. My college printmaking professor caught me “overworking” my prints. “Hold back,” he would say. “When you overwork the image, it looses its freshness, spontaneity, distinction. Only say as much as you need to—then stop.”

Julie Garella, interviewed for my book, reminds:

“The most wonderful things often arise because of slight imperfections. Perfectionism makes you stuck on a single solution. There is no one right answer, but many.”
—Julie Garella, contributor toWomen who Win at Work

As a designer, I’ve learned the best judge for stopping perfectionism: Rely on what matters to the recipient. If the intended audience would not perceive the fix, it isn’t worth doing. If it will affect the sale, the acceptance, the attendance, or the popularity, then it is worth doing.

Sadly, it is easy for any project to take more time than allotted. One of the Peter Principles is that work expand to exceed the time budgeted. To resist and to develop good time management requires a focused plan.

When is ‘good enough’ really good enough? Define the criteria that
determines your best stopping points.

Purpose of your project/work: what are you trying to do?

• What are the most important aspects of the project or of what you intend to do?

• List the hierarchy of elements offered and choose the top three most important:

This is the beginning of a work plan that can help prevent taking an idea too far, or developing it until it is counterproductive.

See the developing series of Idea Incubators.

Liane Sebastian, illustrator, designer, writer, and publishing pioneer


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